In previous years, the Brisbane International Film Festival (BIFF) would have wrapped up by now. Last year’s well-programmed but mismanaged festival closed with Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, a tricky picture I reviewed on this very site on my first viewing and struggled with, but which I found completely revelatory when I later revisited it. This year, Brisbane’s major film festival won’t close with an American film because this year we have the Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival (BAPFF). There are swings and roundabouts. This new, niche focus, crafted around on the Asia Pacific Screen Awards’ fairly loose definition of its continental purview, is great for hardcore cinephiles, as it presents any number of opportunities to see films that might otherwise have slipped by. On the other hand, it leaves a major hole in Australia’s festival calendar; BIFF used to be the festival most likely to pick up Oscar contenders and screen them well before their inevitably delayed January/February releases.
It’s a minor complaint, sure. But for Brisbane residents it’s a pretty significant loss given how often we’re deprived of what is afforded to our good friends in Sydney and Melbourne (at present it’s Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars). But, we have to take the hand we’re dealt, and BAPFF has dealt a solid lineup which includes a number of festival favourites and intriguing curios. From today until the final day of the festival on December 14 I’ll have you covered with either daily diaries or full reviews where possible, or necessary.
Having only seen one other Sion Sono film, I think I can safely say that his work is not for everyone. The manic homage to cinema that constituted Why Don’t You Play in Hell? made for a fun, if flawed, late-night session at BIFF last year. This year, Sono returns with Tokyo Tribe, a film that’s crazier, louder, and actually better as a result.
In some strange dystopian version of Tokyo, the city is divided into tribes of rappers. And honestly, to explain the plot any further than that would be pretty futile – it’s a whirlwind of twists, turns, shifting perspectives, and relentless action scenes. A better way to communicate it would be through its influences. Imagine a weird fusion of West Side Story, 8 Mile, Chungking Express, Enter the Void, Kill Bill, all amounting to a kitchen sink exploitation homage that’ll leave your eyes popping and your ears ringing.
Tokyo Tribe isn’t without its problems – most notably, it seems intent on using its exaggeratedly macho central characters as means to indicate the ridiculousness of hypermasculinity both generally and within the hip hop community. In doing this, though, Sono occasionally indulges that very same thing, so the whole thing dances on a knife’s edge of misogyny and occasional homophobia. But that’s the nature of the films Sono has set out to pay tribute to, and if you can get on its wavelength, it’ll leave you sporting a sizeable grin.
The Iron Ministry
The few people lucky enough to have seen 2012’s Leviathan on the big screen will know that a new film from a Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab alumnus is a pretty big deal. Leviathan, an incredible documentary that plunges the viewer headfirst into the slimy world of a fishing boat, is one of the genre’s most formally audacious and thrillingly original documentaries in years. Then came Manakamana, a series of filmed trips up and down a mountain on a cable car in Nepal.
Now comes J.P. Sniadecki’s The Iron Ministry, filmed between 2011 and 2013 on various train trips across China. Sniadecki’s film is the least experimental of the three, and the only one to break from the observational mode, with the director occasionally addressing his subjects. What emerges is different from both, less tedious and overlong than Manakamana, nor as insightful and engrossing as Leviathan.
The Iron Ministry shows us everything from women hanging meats on any protruding bit of metal they can find, to earnest religious and political discussions between Hui Muslims and some of their fellow passengers. But it’s most effective when creating the atmosphere of the train through sound and image, like in sequences that show a steadily growing pile of rubbish being swept down the aisle to the sheer speed at which buildings queasily streak by. At a brisk 83 minutes, each sliver adds up to a satisfying, fascinating whole that displays the concerns of working class Chinese and provides insight into a population perpetually in transit.
[rating=3] and a half
If you’ve seen the phenomenal Broad City, 2014’s funniest new sitcom, Zero Motivation will certainly appeal to you.
Its characters, Daffi (Nelly Tagar) and Zohar (Dana Ivgy), are not far removed from the delightfully wayward Abbi and Ilana. Set in the administration office of an Israeli Defence Force (IDF) base, Daffi and Zohar are content to half-arse their way through their mandatory military service. But the sunshine days of Minesweeper and naps can’t last.
Zero Motivation turns out to be far darker than its logline. A girl infiltrates their base and gruesomely commits suicide, sending the office into a state of shock and, eventually, Daffi and Zohar’s friendship – already alienated from their intense sergeant Rama (Shani Klein) and their chatty, feminine officemates – into disarray.
Writer-director Talya Lavie’s film is slight but enjoyably weird, and proves to be a pretty sly riff on Israeli militarism, bureaucracy, and early-20s malaise. It’s not uproariously funny, but when the laughs aren’t coming there’s still something to chew on.
Laurence Barber - follow Laurence on Twitter at @bortlb.